Michael McKean’s roles are probably better known than he: Laverne & Shirley’s poignantly dim Lenny, Spi¨nal Tap’s blondly dim David St. Hubbins, and a series of genial deadpan guys in Christopher Guest films like A Mighty Wind (for which he and his wife, Annette O’Toole, got a Best Song Oscar nomination). Coming off a run as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, he’s now performing in Woody Allen’s A Second Hand Memory. He spoke with Helen Eisenbach.
I was surprised to learn you were born in Manhattan—I assumed California.
That’s because I’m blond. The first time I worked on a writing staff, I was the only blond, and everyone assumed (a) I was a Gentile, which I am, and (b) that I was from Montana or someplace.
What brought you to California?
When I left here, it was about 14 degrees. When I got off the plane it was 72 degrees, the sun was setting, there was a bottle of chilled wine at the place I was staying—I’d never seen anything so exotic in my life.
Did you always want to act?
When I was 11, my father took me to see Stanley Holloway—Doolittle in My Fair Lady—who had a one-man show. I thought, He looks like he would rather be nowhere else on earth, and all the seats are facing him. Doing Hairspray, that blast we get from the house at the end of the show—there’s nothing like it.
After Hairspray, did you go through postpartum depression?
The first night, I wasn’t thinking about it, but I kept looking at the clock—Oh, just finishing the chicken-and-waffle scene . . . I didn’t even know I was memorizing those times.
What was it like to attend the Oscars?
An experience like no other. To be up against Elvis Costello for anything is kind of amusing—to be sitting across the aisle from him, throwing each other dirty looks.
And now you’re working with Woody Allen.
When you first read for him, he’s watching the text and listening to your voice. When you get the job, you get the script. I love it. It’s got a very interesting construction and point of view; there’s a character who’s in the play but who’s also our narrator, who transcends space and time. The character I’m playing is not 100 percent nice, and he thinks he is.
There are over 100,000 Websites that talk about you. Do you ever visit the land of Michael McKean online?
I go to IMDb to see if there’s anything I’ve done that I’ve forgotten about. And our daughters were looking up Annette on eBay and came up with a photograph, and Annette’s autograph is totally forged—they misspelled her name. So she wrote to eBay, This is a fake. The guy wrote back, How do I know you’re really her? She wrote, Who the fuck else is going to care whether you have a forged picture of Annette O’Toole? The guy wrote back, We’ve had it verified. And they sold it!